Encyclopedia

What is Yami Kawaii?

Yami Kawaii is a modern fashion style from Harajuku. It is a combination of cute and dark, mixing stereotypically girly colours such as pink and purple with black to create a sweet yet poisonous look.

The look features many cutesy motifs such as sailor collars, strawberry milk and stuffed animals, but they are usually combined with yami(“sick”, “poisonous”) motifs such as syringes, eye patches, pills, weapons, band aids, blood and warning signs. Items may include text with self-depreciating or angsty phrases such as “Shut Up,” “I love you” and “It hurts.”

Oversized dresses or sweaters are especially popular to hide the upper half of the body. They are frequently combined with short, often pleated skirts and over-the-knee or slouchy socks. Chunky platform shoes and sharp accessories are usually worn to add an edgy touch.

Yami Kawaii fans often have natural or pastel hair, usually tied into twintails or twin-buns for a cute, anime-esque look. They may have a hime cut (“princess cut”) where two blunt pieces of hair are cut around the face to frame it. The makeup style is usually fairly natural, with the exception of red eyeshadow which is usually used around the eyes and beneath them to make the wearer look sickly or as if they have been crying.

 

 

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A Yami Kawaii coordinate featuring a skeleton, candy, and spikes.

Etymology

Yami Kawaii (病みかわいい) combines the phrases “Yami” and “Kawaii.”

Yami (病み) refers to “illness” or “sickness”, but more commonly refers to a mental health condition as opposed to a physical condition. The other kanji reading for Yami (闇) means “darkness” or “poison” – themes which are commonly incorporated into Yami Kawaii. Kawaii (かわいい)  means “cute”.

 

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Artwork of Menhera-chan by Ezaki Bisuko, the first “Yami Kawaii” character.

 

A Brief History

Yami Kawaii was created as an offshoot of Yume Kawaii (ゆめかわいい; “Dreamy Cute”), a dreamy pastel style first named in 2013, which would often include “Yami” elements such as illustrations or motifs hidden within the pale colours. Yami Kawaii was formed soon after, taking those elements and making them the main focus of the aesthetic as opposed to scattering them around the outfit. The concept of combining edgy themes with cute themes existed before, but the style was officially named by Ezaki Bisuko, a Japanese illustrator. He also created the character Menhera-Chan; a depressed, bullied young girl who could transform into a magical girl by cutting her wrists. The character received mixed opinions, but was generally relatable to struggling young people. The Yami Kawaii look became popular in Harajuku fashion, artwork and music, even spawning some themed idol groups such as “Zenbu Kimi No Sei Da.” (It’s all your fault”)

 

A current-day Yami Kawaii coord featuring a syringe necklace.

Yami Kawaii in Modern Times

Yami Kawaii became more mainstream around 2017, and subculture brands have  been creating cute yet edgy pieces ever since, with a dark-girly style becoming particularly popular. It isn’t just in Harajuku either; recently, mainstream brands have also been incorporating Yami Kawaii into their designs.  It is still a popular concept in fanart and games, too. Popular IDOLM@STER character Riamu Yumemi is considered Yami Kawaii for her depressed personality and edgy-but-cute clothing.

Well-known Yami Kawaii brands include Jamie ANK, Ank Rouge, ACDC Rag, Dear My Love and Listen Flavor, alongside a variety of indie and handmade brands.

 

Further reading: 

The Dark Side Of Harajuku Style You Haven’t Seen Yet | Style Out There | Refinery29:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Wsk3Oa_3F8

 

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